Lagos — Amnesty Day 1
As the Federal government amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta got off to a good start yesterday, the police, acting on a tip-off, recovered 26 brand new AK 47 rifles and other arms and ammunition allegedly imported by Mujahid Dokubo Asari.
The informant, Prince Wisdom Amachree, had claimed that he was Asari's ally.
Six militants, in their mid twenties, brought their weapons to the state Police Headquarters at about 2 p.m. yesterday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The militants are Asi Loolo, Great Nelson, Bigi Nne, Rago Mina, Denis and Menaya Chinyere, all based at Opoko in Khana Local Government area of the state. The weapons deposited at the centre are two AK-47 rifles, one pump action rifle, one G3 rifle and a locally made pistol.
The weapons were received by Mr Azubuko Udah, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of zone six, Calabar.
Udah, who told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that it was a sign of good things to come, commended the militants for coming out to surrender their weapons.
"We hope their decision today will motivate others, still in doubt, to come out and surrender their weapons," he said.
Mr Joshak Habila, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of Operations, Rivers Police Command, said the militants had chosen to go to Kaa collection centre, in Khana Local Government for documentation.
"They are the first group to come out on their own and surrender their weapons as the amnesty offer commenced today.
"We believe they have embraced the Federal Government's amnesty offer and we will work with them to ensure that others surrendered their weapons," he said.
Asari, the leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), is believed to have repented and has embraced peace.
Amachree had informed the police that Asari imported about 4,000 AK 47 rifles with other assorted weapons with the aim of fighting in collaboration with some sections of the country to divide the country into two.
Yesterday, THISDAY visited some of the collection centres where soldiers were seen preparing the grounds for the amnesty deal as well as the 86 Woji road office of the amnesty committee, but none of the militants had turned in their arms as at press time.
In Bayelsa State, militants operating along the creeks of the Niger Delta shunned the amnesty offer as none of them showed up to return their arms at the Sagbama and Nembe centres.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Committee on Amnesty was engaged in a crucial meeting yesterday with another militant leader, Ateke Tom, on the amnesty.
THISDAY gathered that Ateke may embrace the offer anytime from now.
Amachree claimed that he renounced his membership of the NDPVF when former President Olusegun Obasanjo granted them amnesty but said Asari took him into confidence and showed him the armoury.
He also claimed to have reported to the police hierarchy under the former Inspector General of Police Mike Okiro but it is not clear if any action was taken on it before he retired.
It was, however, based on the tip-off by Amachree that men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad raided a hotel in town where two of Asari's boys were arrested before they led the police to the armourer of NDPVF who was also arrested at Rumuji and the arms recovered.
After showing the guns so far recovered to newsmen at Moscow Road State Police Headquarters, Spokeswoman of the police in the state, Mrs. Rita Abbe, said they swooped on the location based on a tip-off and recovered the arms, arrested three of the boys among who was the armourer.
Items recovered from them so far, she said, are, "26 brand new AK47, 11 boxes of live ammunitions, 68 magazines, while the police are after the 4,000 guns allegedly imported".
Those arrested are, Mr. Kingsley Solomon, Diepreye Dappa and the armorial to Asari, Mr. Tamunokura Princewill, of the same Kalabari stock as Asari.
Although Abbe said that only 26 AK 47 rifles were recovered, inside police sources said that 26 new and seven old AK47 rifles were recovered, one K2 rifle and several other guns were among the ones recovered while they are launching a campaign to recover the rest.
The police have also launched a campaign to trace and recover the remainder of the 4000 rifles which they fear may have been deployed and may be used to cause further mayhem.
Asari had last month addressed a press conference at Golf Prince Hotel in GRA Port Harcourt, where he canvassed a coalition with Igbo in achieving independence for the Niger Delta and carpeted the amnesty offer by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.
He, thereafter, travelled outside the country for alleged treatment of liver and heart problems while his boys stayed in the country apparently anticipating his return.
Amachree said he was taken to a cold room in Rumuji, Emuoha Local Government Area of Rivers State where he alleged that Asari showed him the armoury and promised to launch a campaign to break up the country.
"Sometime ago, he (Asari) took me to Rumuji where he showed me a cold room loaded with 4,000 AK 47, GPMGs and several grenades so I told the AIG and the former IG, Mike Okiro of the arms and where they were kept. Asari is after my life," he said.
While none of the Asari boys who addressed the press conference would want to speak on record on the issue as they claimed they were not taken into confidence on the matter, calls to Asari's number rang out without any answer.
Journalists waited till noon for accreditation without anybody attending to them while the phone of State Coordinator, Mr. Wisdom Woke, was switched off.
The phone of the Media Coordinator of the amnesty team, Dr, Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, also rang without response
At the Government Secondary School, Kaa, Khana Local Government Area, about 11 soldiers led by a major were seen preparing the ground, the observation post and machine gun embankment while at the Okungba Anna, Ogoloma in Okrika, the place was also being prepared with soldiers ready to receive arms but no one showed up.
In Bayelsa, it was not just the militants that did not show up; no official of the presidential committee was around at both centres to receive any repentant militant while at the rehabilitation centres at Imiringi and Tungbo in the state, the situation was also the same.
However at about 2.15pm, a team of 24 soldiers led by a lieutenant arrived the Sagbama offices of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), which had been designated as the arms collection centre.
FRSC had been forced to relocate to the Governors Lodge even as the fully armed soldiers took effective possession of the premises.
The lieutenant told newsmen that the soldiers were not expecting so much activity on the first two days of the exercise but reassured that every militant that surrenders his arms would not be arrested or molested.
He expressed optimism that though there would be lull in activities for now but that the militants would eventually come out to surrender their arms.
He blamed their late arrival to the collection points on logistics problems but said work had commenced in earnest.
Although the soldiers had nothing to do, their arrival coincided with the arrival of a truck load of single-spring mattresses which a security man attached to the Tungbo rehabilitation centre said were meant as beddings for the surrendering militants.
At the Federal Government Girls College, Imiringi rehabilitation centre in the Ogbia local government area of the state, there was no serious activity except for some workmen doing renovation work around the hostel and the noticed movement of additional mattresses into the hostels.
The story was not different at the coastal enclave of Nembe which is about three hours boat ride from Yenagoa as no official was around even as no militant showed up either.
Although it could not be ascertained why none of the implementation committee and security officials was around, THISDAY gathered that the heavy down pour of rain and the rough waterways may have delayed them.
Meanwhile, the Delta State Government has described the formal take off of amnesty programme as the beginning of peace, development and freedom in the region and the country at large.
The state's deputy governor, Professor Amos Utuama, made the observation in Asaba while receiving the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) in charge of Zone 5, Mr. Julian Okpalaeke, at the Government House, Asaba.
Utuama, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), noted: "Today marks the take off of the amnesty in the nation, which in turn marks an era of peace, freedom and development for the whole of the Niger Delta in particular and the whole of Nigeria in general and indeed the world at large.
"The resources from the Niger Delta are resources that advance the course of humanity not only in the South-south, not only in Nigeria but the world at large. So peace and development in the Niger Delta is peace and development in the whole world."
He stressed that the amnesty has "come to cure" the unrest and violence that had characterized the region, noting however that Delta State, although among states in the region, had been peaceful.